We're Reading: Pouch by David Ezra Stein

I picked up this book at a used books store, not knowing what to expect. It was still brand new and wrapped in plastic, the unopened lost treasure of someone from Arkansas (according to the mailing label stuck on the back cover). I was drawn to the beautiful illustrations; yes, I totally judged this book by its cover. 

And I'm glad I got it. We love this book! After giggling through our first reading, my three-year-old gave the ultimate review: "Again, Mama!" 

For our second reading, we put our bodies to work. She hopped along with Joey the little kangaroo, and when I said the word, "Pouch!" she hopped and ran back to me. Perfect for my kinesthetic learner! 

Did I mention that the illustrations are beautiful? Dreamy, freehand-style sketches that suggest a lot of motion and emotion. I think I'll scan and frame a favorite image to add to our lit-themed playroom wall. 

The story and words are simple enough to be a bedtime story for J (five-months and just beginning to roll over and attempt to crawl) but even my preschooler can relate. I can imagine this becoming a favorite read for early life transitions: new school, new life stage (toddler to preschooler or baby to toddler), new home. Anything that makes the world feel a little unsafe and unfamiliar. Which, for a child, can be a lot of things.

The story: A little 'roo slowly ventures away from the safety of his mother's pouch, first two hops, then three, four, and five. He gets increasingly braver, bolder, still knowing that he can always hop back when he needs to. Until, one day, he finds that he no longer needs to. 😭

Parents, does this make your heart hurt a little, too? My first little 'roo is in this stage right now, eager to explore, but still securely attached. She acts like she is completely independent, 3 going on 13. She's always running off on her own to explore. My hand feels empty without hers in it. But, when she needs me, I'm here. I'm also learning to let her go at her own pace, not to push her to go further than she's ready for, but not to hold her back just so I can keep her close and safe. And isn't that the goal, to be a lighthouse and a dock, not a chain and an anchor? 

The mama kangaroo is completely calm all throughout the book. There are no cautionary "carefuls" shouted, no long list for don'ts; she doesn't hop closely behind her youngster. We see her drawn smaller and smaller as she keeps her distance while Joey gets braver and comes into his own. 

This book has given us a secret code word, too, for when she needs some comfort and a safe space. We used it three times today: after she woke up from her nap, after a dinner-time tantrum, when she saw some bees while playing in the grassy area beside a restaurant. "Pouch!" means "I don't feel safe; "Pouch! I'm having trouble with my big emotions"; "Pouch! I'm curious, but I'm also really scared." 

Some days, she still asks to be in my "pouch", especially when baby brother has been in it all day. One day, probably soon, she will not physically fit inside anymore. But my arms will always be big enough. 

Pouch! The same day she pets a boa constrictor, she decides she wants to be back in the sling again. Even brave little kangaroos need some pouch time sometimes.